I’ve always loved the written word
As I child I was a voracious reader.
Scholastic Canada book orders were like the Sears Christmas Wish Book for me, only they came much more frequently.
I remember taking the book order home and pouring over it for hours – circling all the selections I wanted. I was very fortunate that my parents encouraged my interest in reading and nurtured my love of books by supplying endless reading material. I remember being over the moon excited when my elementary school teacher brought the Scholastic box into our classroom and placed it on her desk.
I’d sit in eager anticipation as she ripped the packing tape covering the narrow gap between the cardboard box’s flaps. She’d open one flap, then the other until finally it was open. I swear blinding beams of light sprung forth, up and out of that box. A reading Mecca.
She’d pile the students’ orders on her desk and more often than not just let me take home the box they all came in because I had ordered the same amount of books as most of the other children combined. I’d race home after school and spread my new books out over my bed – not knowing which one to choose first.
I’d devour each one cover to cover and then select another. My books were my prized possessions. Each one representative of a short pocket of time in my life. If you were to ask me what my favorite books were as I was growing up, the following selections would be on that highlight reel.
Elementary School Favorites
The first novel I remember reading in my childhood was Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have always been drawn to period pieces and as a little girl growing up in the 1970’s and early 1980’s I tried to imagine what growing up on the prairies so many years ago would have been like. I tried to imagine living without electricity, going to school in a one-room school house and relying on the land for our food. I tried to imagine that this is what life was like for my grandmother, based on the stories she’d tell me of her childhood. I liked to think of her as the main character when I read the book.
Another favorite was John Peterson’s Enemies of the Secret Hideout. I read this one many times and I think part of the draw for me was that I used to partake in a lot of imaginative play with my older cousin. One of the things we loved to do (besides play school – another favorite!) was to have secret clubs in secret hideouts around my aunt and uncle’s farm. We’d pay dues of 10 cents, bury things in coffee cans so our older cousins wouldn’t find our prized treasures and go on scavenger hunts. This is also about many of those activities so it was a natural favorite.
I also loved stories that had fantastical illustrations and the one that immediately comes to mind for me is The Littles and Their Friends also a book by John Peterson. I spent hours upon hours staring at this book as it was sort of like a bird identification book but in this case, for Littles. It illustrated the various locations they lived and the insides of their tiny abodes and I just got totally lost in their worlds. All the intricate multipurpose uses the illustrators found for everyday objects and the nooks and crannies they lived in just made my mind explode with curiosity.
Some of the books I loved as a child weren’t always one I read alone but ones that my elementary teachers read aloud for the class in the afternoons. I can remember this being one of my favorite parts of the day. The teacher would turn down the lights except the one over her head, we’d all get comfy in our desks (sometimes with our arms crossed and heads resting on our desks) and we’d get to escape to an imaginary world for a while. Some of those favorites were Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (oh how I cried!), Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume and other classics like Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Junior High and High School Favorites
I still continued to enjoy reading in my teens but I’m sure it is no coincidence that the number of books I read was in direct proportion to the number of hours I spent chatting on the phone with friends – that is to say that I spent a bit more time talking than reading. My attention span shortened and magazines featuring cute boys, quizzes and hair & makeup tricks found their way into my bedside reading stash more than novels did.
In junior high I do remember really enjoying the novel I’m Locker 145, Who Are You? by Sylvia Gunnery. The classic secret admirer tale. Our school didn’t have lockers so I also fantasized about how cool it would be to actually have a locker to find a note in. All the cool kids had lockers – well at least the kids on Degrassi Junior High did. 🙂
I also fell head over heals in love with L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. My parents bought me the book when we visited Prince Edward Island in 1982. I was eleven years old and being a redhead, I was eager to dive into the book and subsequent series because finding literature where the heroine also had red hair was pretty life changing. Anne is revered around the world and it gave me hope that this “curse” of red tresses was not going to hold me back in life. I drank in the prose. Montgomery is still one of the most influential writers in my own writing. Her use of descriptive language immediately ignites all the senses despite only using one to read her stories. Every line is a piece of poetry.
In high school, I was introduced to many other Canadian classics as part of the curriculum and I’m so thankful that they were. It is where I believe my love of Canadian literature and in particular, Atlantic Canadian literature, stems. For those who don’t know, I read almost exclusively Atlantic Canadian fiction – very rarely do I ever stray. I owe my love for this niche genre to my high school English teacher, Dr. Homer Noble, and his Canadian Literature course in grade 12.
Some of my favorite Canadian works of fiction include Ernest Buckler’s The Mountain and the Valley. It was through this book that I truly realized how profound of a character that landscape truly is. I was awakened to how much of an impact the physical surroundings play a role not only in the setting visually but in the lives of the characters as well. Being set in a fictitious community in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, I could relate to the setting – the way the light hit the fields of crops in the evening, the cyclical nature of life and death as it related to farming. I had a connection to the back drop, knew the types of people, their challenges. In a similar vein, W.O. Mitchell’s Who Has Seen the Wind provided a very clear picture of life in the prairies and of a specific point in time. A snapshot of life.
We also read Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel in high school and I remember being totally smitten with the fiesty character of Hagar Shipley. She made me laugh, she brought tears of empathy to my eyes and her prairie world was brought to life, again with beautifully crafted description. It detailed the inner conflict and external one as well of the main character in realizing she is not immortal and that she is increasingly coming closer to the end of her life. Family struggles with regards to contingency plans and nursing home options rang true for me at the time because my family had just been through similar circumstances with my aging grandfather. It spoke of long lives lived and moments of reflection for the things she did and regrets she had lived with. A really lovely piece of work.
In university I had the distinct pleasure and amazing opportunity to study under Dr. Jack Sheriff at Acadia. His enthusiasm for literature was infectious. He made me think about the written word in ways I had never noticed before. Suddenly written works became tapestries. There had been so much symbolism I hadn’t even tuned into before! I began to really appreciate the intricate threads of the writing process and how every single word was written with purpose and intent. They all played a pivotal role in creating the big picture. The most memorable piece of fiction we dissected in his class was Percy Jane’s House of Hate, set in rural Newfoundland. It chronicled the Stone Family and all the trials and tribulations of rural life in a tumultuous family environment. The characters were strong, the backdrop, again pivotal and the inner workings of the family dynamic were intricately woven throughout the tale. This piece just might be what sealed the deal for me and my love of Atlantic Canadian works. Jack Sheriff is also introduced me to my favorite short story of all time The Painted Door [pdf] by Sinclair Ross.
I’ve continued to read quite a bit into my adulthood but have definitely become more discerning when selecting titles to read. My downtime is limited and reading time even more so. My favorite reading spots are snuggled up in my bed while lying on my side or alternatively in summer, sitting in the shade of a tree on my family’s cottage deck overlooking the lake. Both spots allow me to focus solely on this little world being carefully crafted before my eyes but simultaneously in my brain with my imagination filling in the gaps.
Now I’m absolutely thrilled that my son’s daycare offers Scholastic book order forms! I feel like my life has come full circle. (No, this is not a sponsored post – Scholastic just truly impacted my life and my love of reading!) I’m now the parent that’s whole heartedly encouraging my sons’ love of reading.
My oldest son (almost 3 years old) gets as excited as I did (do?) at pouring over the offerings, pointing to books with accompanying illustrations he can identify with. Excited, he exclaims “Monster trucks! Dump Trucks! Fire Trucks, Mom!” and I smile, knowingly.
What a glorious gift the ability to read is!
So, what are your favorite childhood books?